Only 48% of the UK's 212 top tier councils provide a meals on wheels service compared with 66% two years ago, according to the latest research released to mark Meals on Wheels Week (7-11 November).
The study, carried out by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) on behalf of the National Association of Care Catering (NACC), revealed 91% of providers expect there to be further reductions in the service over the next 12 months.
Data showed the North West, North East and South East of England to be the worst regions with just 17% of authorities in each region providing meals on wheels.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland there is still 100% provision of meals on wheels; 59% in Scotland and 45% in Wales.
The West Midlands was listed as the best performing region in England with 53%, followed by the East Midlands with 50%.
The NACC said under investment puts the elderly at risk and will place unnecessary pressure on the NHS. It cited the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as having previously identified better nutritional care as the third largest source of cost savings to the NHS.
The study also found that only half of those providing a meals on wheels service do so every day of the year and the average cost of a two-course lunch is £4.30.
Despite the average meals on wheels service supplying around 60,000 meals per year, the service is not statutory and can often be removed as councils look to save money.
Malnutrition accounts for nearly £20b of health and social care in England according to data for 2011/12 from the British Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (BAPEN), published in 2015.
The cost of keeping someone in hospital is an estimated £400 per day, according to 2015 figures from the Department of Health.
Neel Radia, NACC national chair, said: "This is a very worrying trend. Meals on wheels is so much more than just a meal - it's a vital preventative service, and prevention is better than cure. It helps reduce unnecessary malnutrition and malnutrition-related illnesses and is a lifeline to those who are alone and isolated with no support.
"Meals on Wheel services can include wellbeing and safety checks. It's about looking out for people in our communities who have contributed throughout their lives, and doing it in a human and caring way."
He added: "We understand that local authorities have a problem with social care funding and we are not placing the blame solely with them. Council budgets are under immense pressure but withdrawing a service that can help keep someone out of hospital is a false economy in the long run because unnecessary hospital stays and bed blocking are a huge problem for the NHS."
"We want to see meals on wheels services expand across the UK as more authorities are empowered to spend health and social care budgets in a co-ordinated way for the best long-term solution for taxpayers and customers."
Meals on wheels coverage by region 2014/2016
North West 48%/17%
North East 25%/17%
South East 67%/17%
Yorkshire & The Humber 50%/38%
East Midlands 88%/50%
South West 71%/41%
West Midlands 60%/53%
East of England 64%/45%
Northern Ireland 100%/100%
The APSE research covered councils deemed to actively be providing meals on wheels, whether contracted or in-house. It did not include councils that may be signposting members of the public to providers not monitored by the council. The 2014 study reflects councils which said they provided a service without making the distinction.